'The Jungle' in Postville Affects Us All

By Brian Brandsmeier 8-20-2008

Agriprocessors, the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the U.S., has developed a longstanding reputation for abusing animals, workers, and laws. The abuses have been documented and decried by labor unions, religious leaders, animal rights groups, etc. Children as young as 13 work in dangerous conditions. Cows have their windpipes ripped out while they are still conscious and alive. Central Americans were hired illegally to work long hours with little pay. Untreated sewage has been dumped into the Postville, Iowa, water system. The list goes on and on.

In a bizarre twist of perverted justice, the Bush administration had the workers arrested while ignoring the egregious practices of the owners and operators. On May 20, 2008, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 300 Guatemalan workers at the plant and charged them with a serious crime: "aggravated identity theft." Torn from their families, these Guatemalans are forced to choose between a two-year prison sentence or immediate deportation. The immediate deportation is considered "the deal."

So, while the Bush administration prosecutes people who are weak and poor to the fullest extent of the law, the wealthy owners and administrators continue business as usual. The CEO, Sholom Rubashkin, and the rest of the people who run the slaughterhouse bear the most responsibility for the abuses to people, animals, and laws, yet they remain in power and are not prosecuted. That is not the American way. These are not the values of our nation.

The plaque on the Statue of Liberty says, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" This is a quote worth re-reading these days. As this statement makes clear, our nation is founded on principles of justice, equality, and helping the downtrodden.

Our Judeo-Christian tradition also compels us to care. Exodus 23:9 says, "You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt." Matthew 25:40 says, "Whatever you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me." In Postville, there are many people who may be considered "resident aliens" or "the least of these." We're called to care for them because God cares about them.

We should also care because "we" are "them." "Our" lives outside of Postville are bound up in "their" lives inside of Postville. Martin Luther King Jr. said: "We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny." The apostle Paul said: "If one member of the body suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it." Our actions and inactions affect one another. Together we must act so honor can replace the suffering of us all.

Somehow, this perversion of justice in Postville must be addressed and transformed. We all deserve it. So here are five simple actions we can take:

(1) Pray

(2) Educate ourselves further about this complex situation by reading blogs such as Letters & Papers from Postville.

(3) Watch the free documentary Voice of a Mountain, which adds more context to the conversation about immigration reform.

(4) Enjoy high quality coffee from Juan Ana Coffee. This small coffee company in San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala, helps to provide local people with land, jobs, and homes. It literally helps to provide land for the landless. Drink some coffee. Help people in poverty. Help reduce the need for immigration. Everyone wins!

(5) Donate money to St. Bridget's Parish, which is providing basic help to the families who are in crisis:

St. Bridget's Hispanic Ministry Fund
c/o Sister Mary McCauley
P.O. Box 369
Postville, Iowa 52162

Click here to watch Sojourners' video of Sister Mary of St. Bridget's, who has been ministering to immigrant families in Postville.

Brian Brandsmeier was born and raised in northeast Iowa. He was an English tutor in Postville while he was a student at Luther College. Brian just finished a master's degree in divinity at Eden Theological Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri.

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